April Local News

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Printing Press


Lakelanders will get a close peek at Publix’ newest experiment in connecting gastronome customers to specialty, natural and organic foods. The Lakeland-based grocery chain is developing a new generation of Greenwise Markets, and one of them will be placed in part of the vacant Kmart building across from Lake Miriam Plaza. The store will be less than half the size of a conventional supermarket and will offer amenities such as wine and cheese tastings and gourmet take-home meals. No word yet on when it will open.



Lakeland’s police chief says that most everybody who pays a $158 fine for red-light-camera violations changes their driving habits, making streets safer. City commissioners agree, so they voted 6-1 to extend the city’s contract with the Arizona company that has installed red-light cameras at 11 Lakeland intersections since 2009. Fourteen of the 18 cameras will be upgraded with radar technology that calculates violators’ speed. Commissioner Michael Dunn voted against the five-year contract extension.



It’s hard to miss the bright yellow sign for La Imperial Bakery greeting drivers entering downtown Lakeland from the east on Main Street. The family-owned cafe serves breakfast and lunch, and the bakery specializes in Latin American pastries. Other businesses coming downtown include the soon-to-open 5th and Hall clothiers moving from Dixieland and the Take Heart fair-trade nonprofit going brick-and-mortar after three years at the Saturday downtown curbside market.



City commissioners have already decided the Confederate monument should move from Munn Park to a place where it can be displayed in historic context. The next question: Where’s the best spot? City Manager Tony Delgado and his staff have given commissioners two options: among Confederate graves at Roselawn Cemetery on Ingraham or among memorials to veterans and first responders at Veterans Park near the RP Funding Center. No word yet on when commissioners will take comments and decide. 



Thousands of people stroll the streets of downtown Lakeland during First Fridays, but merchants north of the railroad tracks were feeling little love. So event organizers hatched a win-win to get folks to cross the tracks: Local artisans and makers were given gratis booths to display their wares. That brought new traffic north of the tracks and new customers to local artisans as well as brick-and-mortar merchants. The debut of the new setup in March was deemed a success. The next First Friday is April 6 from 6 to 9 p.m.



Tax Collector Joe Tedder meticulously tracks metrics to see if his customers are being kept satisfied. So it pained him to watch wait times grow for people getting auto tags or driver licenses at the art deco Publix that was converted into his Lakeland office. Tedder took to Facebook to offer some tips. The main one: Use online and mail options when possible. He’s also implementing an appointment-only system for driver licenses, and expanding parking so customers won’t have to drive circles waiting for a space. 



High school students in Lakeland briefly walked out of classes at 10 a.m. March 17, as did others around the U.S., in solidarity with the students from Parkland whose classmates had been gunned down a month earlier. Things went smoothly at most local schools — except at McKeel Academy, where administrators ended up admitting they messed up. Students said school officials first threatened students against protesting and then held a fire drill at the exact hour other schools were holding peaceful protests.



After the Parkland shootings, Southeastern University said it is doubling the campus’s armed “sentinels” — faculty members trained and deputized by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Grady Judd has been a chief proponent of arming teachers, calling on local college presidents and School Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd to do so. Byrd declined via a YouTube video, appealing to legislators to grant other security tools. Legislators passed a bill the next day that included several school security measures, including authorizing schools to set up programs to arm teachers.



Lakeland would do a better job turning homeless people into productive citizens if it adopted a “housing first” approach, according to a consultant who is several months away from making a formal recommendation to the city of Lakeland. Susan Pourciau of the Tallahassee-based Florida Housing Coalition was hired by the city to make recommendations to alleviate homelessness. She told downtown business leaders recently that it is cheaper and more efficient to provide housing first and services second, the reverse of what’s happening now.



The Lakeland Area Chamber of Commerce is changing its legal status to public nonprofit, making it eligible for federal grants to support workforce programs, its director says. The chamber is also close to announcing a deal to move into a different downtown location and form a centralized home for agencies serving small businesses. The organization says its current home of 51 years overlooking Lake Morton won’t accommodate a 21st Century entrepreneurial center. It has enjoyed a $1-a-year lease from the city of Lakeland for the 91-year-old Park Trammell Building.


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